Rookie wins LPGA major

A long and memorable day for Anna Nordqvist ended with well-deserved champagne shower on the 18th green.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — A long and memorable day for Anna Nordqvist ended with well-deserved champagne shower on the 18th green.

Playing in only her fifth professional tournament, the steely nerved rookie from Sweden shot a 4-under 68 on Sunday to win the LPGA Championship by four strokes over Lindsey Wright.

Nordqvist finished at 15-under 273 in the tournament’s final stand at Bulle Rock Golf Course. After letting a five-shot lead dwindle to one, Nordqvist sank a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 14 and essentially clinched her first career victory with a 35-foot putt for a birdie on No. 15.

When the shot dropped into the cup, the 22-year-old Swede pumped her fist with delight.

Not that she ever felt the need to panic. Throughout the week, Nordqvist appeared more nervous in the interview room than on the course. So after her advantage fell to a stroke, her mind-set never changed.

“I just kept being patient. I think that’s really what paid off at the end,” she said.

Wright, who shot a 70, said, “It was amazing. Under that amount of pressure, not being in that position before and in a major and being a rookie? You can’t get any better than that. She really didn’t falter today. She didn’t show any nerves at all.”

Nordqvist completed the final four holes of the suspended third round at 7:30 in the morning, then teed off as part of the final pairing shortly after 2:30 p.m. She took a two-shot lead into the fourth round, quickly increased the margin and held on to earn the US$300,000 top prize.

After Nordqvist concluded the tournament with a birdie putt on 18, her coach and several friends rushed onto the green to spray her with champagne.

“That was great. I couldn’t see anything,” Nordqvist said, grinning.

Playing in her fifth LPGA tournament, Nordqvist celebrated her birthday Wednesday, shot a 66 on Thursday, took the lead in the second round Friday and held onto it throughout the weekend.

Her best previous finish this year was a tie for 17th in the Corona Championship.

“Obviously, it’s a great feeling. It’s been an incredible week,” Nordqvist said. “I had so much fun.”

Looking surprisingly fresh and calm, Nordqvist birdied No. 1 and opened up a four-shot lead with an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 6. The gap widened to five shots when Wright bogeyed the seventh, but birdies by the Australian on Nos. 8, 9 and 12, combined with Nordqvist’s lone bogey on 13, cut the gap to one.

Nordqvist rebounded with her birdie-birdie salvo, leaving the final three holes a mere formality. Wright birdied 16 but bogeyed 17, and Nordqvist used a marvellous approach to set up a three-footer for birdie on 18.

“To hit that shot on 18, if that was me, I think I probably would have wedged it around the green,” Wright said.

That would be the final shot in the tournament’s five-year run at Bulle Rock. The LPGA Championship will get a new sponsor and a new home in 2010.

The memory of this one, however, will linger.

“It was almost like a little bit of a match-play event coming down the stretch,” Wright said. “I thought she was really holding it together, and I thought, she’s not giving this championship away. I have to go for it.”

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